Don’t I wish, IMDb, don’t I wish.
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Don’t I wish, IMDb, don’t I wish.
I liked Bronson. I liked Valhalla Rising. I’ll probably check out Nicolas Winding Refn’s new one, Drive. But come on, guys, No Country For Old Men wasn’t all that long ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Academy Award winners.
Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Runner-Up: The Social Network
Traditional Academy apology award for failing to honor recent work: Michael Clayton
Best Sound Mixing: Salt
Irving G. Thalberg Award for Lifetime Achievement: The Man Who Fell to Earth
And a sneak peek at next year: The Adjustment Bureau
A brief summary of the little tiff between James Cameron and Piranha 3-D, for those not following along: In an interview with Vanity Fair about the re-release of Avatar, Cameron is asked whether he’s nostalgic about his two and a half weeks back in 1981 directing Piranha II: The Spawning (before exec producer Ovidio Assonitis fired him and took over), with the current release of Piranha 3-D. He is not.
I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops of blood out of the turnip. And that’s not what’s happening now with 3-D. It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D. Martin Scorsese is making a film in 3-D. Disney’s biggest film of the year—Tron: Legacy—is coming out in 3-D. So it’s a whole new ballgame.
For someone completely obsessed with the practice, Cameron’s assessment of 3-D’s place in the film biz is puzzlingly off the mark. 3-D isn’t a practice that shows up based on where in its lifespan a franchise or creative team happens to be, but a practice that spreads whenever the technology makes a new leap, and/or (usually a causal and then) the marketplace indicates a possibly successful trend. This is why there are more 3-D films released in 1953 than in the 1960s and 1970s combined. The Friday the 13th series, as easy a target as it may be, was years from the bottom of the barrel creatively with its 3rd/3-D installment, and nowhere near the end of its financial lifespan. So was it coincidental that it came out in the 1982-1983 period alongside Amityville 3-D and Jaws 3-D? Was Parasite released in 3-D because it was a franchise at the end of its lifespan, because Charles Band was at the end of his career (it was his third film; he’s made ten times that many since), or because it seemed like a plausible moneymaking option in 1982? Piranha is 3-D for precisely the same reason.
After Cameron talked to Vanity Fair, Piranha producer Mark Canton fired back in Movieline.
Jim, are you kidding or what? First of all, let’s start by you accepting the fact that you were the original director of Piranha 2 and you were fired. Shame on you for thinking that genre movies and the real maestros like Roger Corman and his collaborators are any less auteur or impactful in the history of cinema than you. Martin Scorsese made Boxcar Bertha at the beginning of his career. And Francis Ford Coppola made Dementia 13 back in 1963. And those are just a few examples of the talented and successful filmmakers whose roots are in genre films. Who are you to impugn any genre film or its creators?
Canton goes on for some 1200 more words, but that about covers the gist, even if it’s a little low about Piranha II, and maybe a little off the mark in this spot. I don’t think Cameron’s necessarily saying Aja’s a bad filmmaker, for example, or that he won’t go on to better things, only that he doesn’t want his precious 3-D sullied by lowbrow killer-fish movies. Certainly his Piranha II experience didn’t leave him with fond memories of the genre. I just have two amendments to Canton’s points. One, Piranha 3-D is better than Avatar. (I haven’t seen Piranha 3-D yet). Two, this:
If you don’t recognize that distinctive font, it’s promotional material for the fourth installment of Resident Evil, in theaters today. So Cameron’s okay with using his tech and name for Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D, but talented young Alexandre Aja’s fun-by-most-accounts Piranha 3-D “cheapens the medium”? I have a ridiculous adoration of the entire goofy Resident Evil series, but even I don’t see how it’s necessarily more worthwhile than Piranha.
That said, oh man! Resident Evil 4 is out!
Iron Man 2 finally coming along today! A few notes on its troubled production history, if only to jab at Marvel for pinching pennies on what’s about to be a mammoth payday. The first installment made $318 million domestically and near $600 million worldwide, with only The Dark Knight keeping it from being the year’s biggest film. In short, it seems unlikely that Marvel or anyone else would ever have thought it a stretch to guarantee the sequel (which is already up to $133 million in the overseas market) would be another bonanza, and yet Marvel went about putting together the pieces for Iron Man 2 in the most parsimonious of manners.
Director Jon Favreau nearly didn’t return. Not long after Iron Man’s May 2008 release, Marvel announced an April 2010 release date for IM2. Favreau expressed some concern on his Myspace page, and mentioned that negotiations with Marvel were on hold, not having heard from them in five weeks. Not long after, IESB reported that a source at Marvel admitted money was the issue, that Favreau expected a bump from his Iron Man fee, but that Marvel didn’t feel Favreau’s presence was integral to Iron Man 2’s success and was considering replacing him with someone less expensive.
Despite the modern iteration of the character being designed after him in the comics, Samuel L. Jackson was almost lowballed out of returning as Nick Fury, a role that would be relevant not only in Iron Man 2, but the upcoming Captain America and The Avengers films as well. Jackson told the L.A. Times that contract talks had broken down: “There seems to be an economic crisis in the Marvel Comics world, so [they're saying to me], ‘We’re not making that deal.’”
Mickey Rourke, fresh off his comeback role in The Wrestler and the best critical goodwill of his career, was offered a rather meager-for-this-sort-of-thing $250,000, low enough that he told New York magazine that he was off the project.
In the highest-profile of these cases, co-star Terrence Howard was scrapped as Jim Rhodes, replaced by Don Cheadle. Stories differ on this one, but Howard had been the first actor signed to the Iron Man, and improbably enough had the highest salary — higher than Robert Downey, Jr. — so when it came time for part 2, Howard’s salary was the first thing that they looked at; reportedly, Marvel wanted to cut his pay by 50 to 80 percent. Howard told NPR that he found out he’d lost the job through the trades. Other sources say that Favreau and the producers weren’t happy with Howard’s performance, and when Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux started trimming Howard’s role (with Jim Rhodes set to become War Machine in the second installment, the role should have been expanded from the first), Marvel took the opportunity to offer a proportionately lower cut.
It’s easy to play armchair exec. Truth is, I wouldn’t want to be in Marvel’s payroll department, cutting checks for Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Edward Norton, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and company when budget time for The Avengers rolls around. Times are tough all over, and it’s hard to fault Marvel for trying to cut some corners on a film they knew would come in at a minimum budget around $150 million. Still, when you run into public tiffs with four of the major players in your production, it may be wise to reconsider your tactics.
We can probably chalk some of it up to posturing in the press as a way of negotiating — Jackson probably expected to be asked back, and Rourke’s quarter-mil was an opening offer — but the fact that Terrence Howard didn’t end up returning may say something about Marvel’s bottom line. Let’s hope they find a good way to do right by the creative types and still keep the coffers where they need to be. Nobody wants to see this:
A nice holiday touch: today Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo released a special Cinco de Mayo trailer of Machete.
[The trailers keep getting yanked; you can check it out here if the video refuses to play.]
The timeliness isn’t really about Cinco de Mayo, of course, but the snarled “to ARIZONA.” With the police-state Arizona immigration law SB1070* in the news, the film is thematically relevant, the story here revealed to be about Machete & co. standing up against right-wing anti-immigration forces. Machete, like the film from which it spun off, is couched in a faux-grimy exploitation veneer; like Grindhouse, it’s too well-cast to feel all that much like the exploitation films it apes, though it’s hard to be too mad at the big-namers (Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, etc.) for wanting to have a little fun with Rodriguez on a goofy retro-tinger actioner.
*Jeff Fahey violates SB 1070 in the preview. See if you can spot it!
Machete should be the first of the Grindhouse trailers (once jokey bits to provide atmosphere for Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s retro evening-on-42nd-Street assemblage, now considerably less so) to make it to release, scheduled for September 3rd. Hobo With A Shotgun (you might not have seen that trailer during Grindhouse; it won a contest at South By Southwest, and only shipped with some prints of the film) started shooting in late April with Rutger Hauer in the title role. As a considerably more independent flick, it might end up quicker to its presumed straight-to-DVD release date.
Other Grindhouse spin-off updates: Eli Roth still wants to make Thanksgiving into a feature film, and discussed with Edgar Wright the possibility of combining it with a full-length version of Don’t to comprise Grindhouse 2. Who would have thought that out of any given group of filmmakers, Rob Zombie would be the most restrained?
Samuel Bayer’s not the only one fighting back against studio pressure for 3-D — the Robocop remake ran into trouble when MGM wanted Darren Aronofsky to make the flick in 3-D. (It’s presumably the first time a studio wanted Aronofsky to make one of his movies deeper.) Aronofsky argued, preferring to stick with practical and creative effects and citing the success of The Fountain’s alternative effects methodology (macrophotography, underwater shooting, fluid dynamics, and other non-CGI wizardry). After Brad Pitt had a well-publicized walkoff from The Fountain, it was eventually reconceived at half the budget. Aronofsky and his crew, looking for a new outlook on the picture, accomplished wonders visually with a relative minimum of both computer-generated imagery and money.
Speaking of a minimum of money, the teaser poster pictured is apparently legitimate. No, I can’t believe it either. Is it unfair to pit Robocop vs. Terminator? They’ve tussled in the past. So we’ve got this godawful 1992esque Robocop…thing, which wouldn’t be out of place at We Have Lasers!!!!, versus the rather forward-thinking Terminator: Salvation motion poster (see it in motion here). It’s like comparing the production values of Robocop 3 and Terminator 2. Though to be fair, it’s also like comparing their respective budgets.
Also on the topic of budgets: the 3-D debate wasn’t the primary holdup with Robocop. That’d be MGM restructuring, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and possibly heading toward sale in the face of almost four billion dollars in debts. Writer David Self maintains that both he and Aronofsky are still attached, and that the film could proceed as planned once MGM is sold, bailed out, or otherwise restructured. Knowing that Aronofsky and MGM were at odds, nobody would be surprised to see him dropped from the project when MGM finally gets to move forward with it. I’d like to see the Aronofsky version, but he’s not hurting for work, with four upcoming directorial projects in addition to Black Swan, a just-wrapped drama featuring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Winona Ryder.
Don’t worry about David Self either. He’s got another writing project scheduled for 2011 besides Robocop. That’d be Deathlok, a fairly unpopular Marvel Comics property about a man who is transformed, without his approval, into a unstoppable cyborg agent for an ethically questionable corporation. He’s set at odds with the corporation, questioning their purpose and yearning to be with his family again. However — and this is crucial — the human/metal division of Deathlok’s face is vertical, whereas Robocop’s is horizontal.
You know what was a great movie? The Departed.
Wait, no it wasn’t. It made changes from the source material (2002 Hong Kong police drama Infernal Affairs) that detracted from the story. The ending didn’t really work for a handful of reasons. And how many times do we need to hear that same Dropkick Murphys song? If your movie relies on one particular tune more than That Thing You Do!, it might be worth a phone call to your music coordinator.
Still, I liked the atmosphere, and there were some good aspects. The pacing feels surprisingly quick for a long, talky film, and most of that talk is pretty sharp. Lots of weirdly entertaining performances of the aggressive, macho sort that nobody seems to bring out of actors as readily as Martin Scorsese. It can be a bit much — Jack Nicholson goes off the track in the second half — but it’s pretty fun to watch Alec Baldwin revisit his knockout turn in Glengarry Glen Ross and play it as a comedy this time around.
So let’s compromise, and say there’s some good stuff in The Departed, but there are clearly aspects that don’t work. I’m gonna go ahead and take out part.
With that part removed, Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker (who won the Best Editing Oscar for this flick) can tighten up the formerly 151-minute movie a bit.
Excellent, the deed is done. Now throw some zombies in there and we’re all set.
Things to like about the new Nightmare on Elm Street remake, which opened at $32 million over the weekend (lower than Friday the 13th remake, higher than Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween). It’ll drop precipitously next weekend.
Sam, why wouldn’t you do a sequel?
Samuel Bayer: It’s funny, with the right circumstances you never know…you should never say never.
Oh heck, while we’re at it.
But The Blair Witch Project may once again be more than stylistic influence and parody fodder (and cornerstone of the softcore porn DVD industry). After the film found world-record type profits in mid-late 1999, writer/directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick turned down the chance to make the sequel for fear of being pigeonholed, replaced by previously staid documentarian Joe Berlinger (who established his rural-murder cred with Paradise Lost and Brother’s Keeper). Without Sánchez and Myrick, the project was rushed through production, and Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows hit theaters just days shy of Halloween 2000 to a small amount of profit and a large amount of disdain. It’s certainly not great, but perhaps unfairly hated. Berlinger opted to steer well clear of BWP’s style, but it seems audiences wanted more of the same. At a screenwriters’ expo in Los Angeles last year, Sánchez says, anecdotally bearing out the assertion, an informal raise-your-hands poll indicated an overwhelming demand for the return of the shaky-cam style. This even ten years later, in a marketplace in which BWP shaky-cam has appeared in numerous genre films — by rights, folks should be working up a good backlash by now.
In the decade since BWP, rumors have cropped up from time to time about Sánchez and Myrick returning to the film for a proper sequel. They’ve been back in the spotlight over the last year for the film’s tenth anniversary (voicing their interest in an anniversary re-release: “I really would love to put out a two-and-a-half hour version of the movie on DVD; like a Criterion edition with a bunch of extra footage,” said Sánchez) and told numerous sources that those occasional rumors might be coming to some type of fruition.
I’m happy for the guy…but at the same time, there’s the feeling that, man, I could have done this. It would have been different and might not have been as good. But I know how to make these films. To me it’s like, man, maybe I should go back and kind of milk this one more time.,
said Sánchez somewhat bluntly last Devil’s Night, speaking to Paranormal Activity’s success. Not quoted: adding that he and Myrick were preparing a pitch for rights-owner Lionsgate, to be delivered within a few weeks.
In late November, a different project surfaced, via various casting-call websites: a call for actors for one Blair Witch Remake, set to shoot in Glasgow in December.
Title: THE BLAIR WITCH REMAKE, a Thriller. PROD, Bob Greensworth; DIR, Stacy Hopkins. Contract: Guild membership dues are required. Professional pay, plus credit, meals, travel & lodging provided. Shoot Dates: Begins December 10, 2009 (in Glasgow, Scotland). STORY: The film is about three experienced filmmakers who set out to shoot a documentary about a local legend. Breakdown– Dennis Hither: 22-38, an experienced filmmaker. Lead; Michael Adams: 22-44. Supporting; Donald Walker: 22-38, an experienced filmmaker; Allison James: 21-35, Michael’s girlfriend; Various Roles: Children aged 3-10 & Adult, male and female, 21+, inhabitants of Cuddington town. Note: Producers are seeking actors of Canadian or European origin who can speak and understand English.
Tenth-anniversary-instigated remake, unrelated to the third installment? An indie trying to get a little press before the inevitable cease-and-desist letter from Lionsgate’s law department? My money’s on option C: first seeds of marketing/backstory for the Sánchez/Myrick sequel, done for the price of a few casting notices during or just after greenlighting. I usually prefer debunking conspiratorial viral-marketing rumors, but this one has a certain ring to it. The first Blair Witch is one of the unquestioned pioneers of creative internet marketing. Neither producer Greensworth nor director Stacy Hopkins has a single film credit to be found. The extensive Blair Witch mythology originates in Ireland. What? Close enough.
One last note on Paranormal-type activity until the obligatory updates on the sequel. As with any independent-film success story, the emulators should be on the way, and while nobody can beat The Asylum to the marketplace, look for Paranormal Activity influence in plot, budget, film style, and advertising.
First out of the gate (other than Paranormal Entity, of course) looks to be a British offering, The Possession of David O’Reilly. The official line on Possession: “A supernatural shockumentary about a demonic presence in a young couple’s home in London.” Writer/director Andrew Cull wrote it in 2003, inspired by an unspecified “domestic incident” in the local news. It went into pre-production in late 2009 and was shot early this year, exonerating it from being a knockoff, but PA’s success surely had a hand in Possession finding a release – IFC announced today that it had picked the film up and would be debuting it in less than a week: it makes its OnDemand debut on May 5th.
Though graphically, it’s pure Blair Witch Project. Maybe with a little Quarantine filter. Get in where ya fit in.
Oh yeah, the Oscars. A bit belatedly, the annual wrap-up of the fiscal moviewatching year: 2009’s top hundred flicks by gross (as of 1/01/10, but safe to say Avatar’s still at the top), summarily labeled by the relevant information. Rankings courtesy of Box Office Mojo; categorizations by your humble compiler. This is by my own recollection, so caveat emptor. It could always turn out that Year One was loosely based on a early draft of the Caveman script.
Paranormal Activity cleared its $15,000 production budget in the first few hours of its theatrical run, so sequel details were just a matter of time. Paramount recently signed a director for the next installment: Kevin Greutert, editor of the first five Saw films and director of the sixth. Almost as quickly as Greutert was assigned, he was removed — Lionsgate exercised a contractual option obliging him to direct Saw VII 3-D. It’s more than just a conflict of shooting schedules; it’s something of a conflict of interests: Paramount has Paranormal Activity 2 set for an October 22nd release. Lionsgate will drop Saw VII the same day.
Strictly speaking, Paranormal Activity has already had a sequel. Paranormal Activity: The Search for Katie [A Case Study by Dr. Johann Averys, DMN], a comic for the iPhone, was released by IDW (30 Days of Night) in early December. The comic’s written by Scott Lobdell, who wrote Uncanny X-Men for a pretty considerable stretch of the 1990s, starting right about when I stopped reading it, almost down to the issue. In any case I don’t have an iPhone.
Back to Paranormal Activity 2. Greutert was forthcoming with his displeasure on his blog (it’s long since deleted):
I just had the task of telling my 83 year old mother that no, I’m not going to be allowed to direct the movie we were all so excited about when my family last got together, and that I’m being forced to leave town before getting a chance to see her again. Yes, I’ll be filming people getting tortured YET AGAIN. So we’ll have to put off me making a film she can actually watch for another year.
On the Paranormal Activity side, I wouldn’t be too worried. There’s a script, but considering they signed a director closely associated with a series based on visible gore for the sequel to a flick where the lack of gore is key, rethinking that choice may be best for the franchise if it’s to deliver more of the same (which is presumably what it intends to offer up as an alternative to Saw for October moviegoers). Latest baffling word from the LA Times is that Brian De Palma is a leading candidate to direct Paranormal Activity 2. Others in the running are Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist, and for my money one of the most underrated directors working), and the talented Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue). All three are probably well above Paranormal Activity 2, but unless Saw picks up Wes Anderson, any of them would cement Paranormal as the more intriguing of the warring projects.
On the Saw side, the seventh installment is written by Patrick Melton — a better stylistic fit than Greutert, considering his experience on Saw (episodes V and VI) and the grisly recent Collector — who says he has a strong feeling that it’ll be the last. Melton isn’t calling the shots here, regardless of whatever finality he thinks he’s written into the flick — after all, this is a franchise which has run four installments since the bored creative crew killed off the villain. Most folks seem to be citing as evidence of VII’s finality the rather poor box office take of Saw VI, which topped out domestically at $27 million in comparison to the rest of the series (the others each made at least $55 mil), but that’s a healthy profit on an $11 million budget. Even if Lionsgate doesn’t want to put the advertising budget into it anymore, I can’t see it not continuing as a direct-to-video endeavor. David Hackl was on board to direct Saw VII before getting the boot. Hackl’s tale? He’s been with the Saw series since II as production designer and second-unit director before trying out the director’s chair for Saw V.
Like everyone else, I make a lot of fun of The Global Asylum’s brand of shameless low-budget knockoffs (the term mockbuster seems to be gaining currency) without ever having stooped to watch one. Paranormal Entity intrigued me: if the real thing was shot for fifteen large, how much would The Asylum spend? If Roland Emmerich’s 2012 cost Sony $200 million and Asylum brought Doomsday: 2012 in at, say, a quarter of a million (as estimated by IMDb), does that 0.00125% proportion hold true for other flicks? If so, Paranormal Entity would have to come in at $18.75, which seems stingy even for them. If, on the other hand, they’re willing to look past their strict formula, they could confidently drop a still-thrifty fifty grand or so and hike the production values up well past the level of the film they’re aping. I was curious enough to make it my first Asylum venture.
Well, if they dropped fifty grand on this, they dined well, unless they had to pay Erin Marie Hogan a topless bonus. If you had the camera (singular will do) already and weren’t paying your actors, I think you actually could wrap this one up for that $18.75 — a couple blank tapes for the camera and a quick thrift store outing and you’re all set. Actors bring their own costumes, which is to say, wear their usual clothes. House is already set up. Very little lighting needed (if the camera doesn’t have a night-vision function, you shoot day for night and tint it minty green in post-production). Come to think of it, Paranormal Entity is probably the closest thing to a Dogme film I’ve seen in a couple years. Heck, the director doesn’t get credited, and I’m not even sure Lars von Trier sticks to that one. In defense of The Asylum’s penny-pinching, this does mean it’s faithful to the production values of the original (where ‘production values’ means ‘general appearance of somebody’s house’ and not in any sense ’special effects’).
And how similar is the movie itself? Usually the Asylum shoots these things early based on premise; it’s not tough to whip up an outline for Transmorphers without seeing Transformers, assuming you’ve got a passing familiarity with 1986. Here they couldn’t have known Paranormal Activity would be worth jocking until that sizable wave of viral marketing crested into a heavy TV spot campaign just before the release date. So they didn’t get to it until afterward, and as a result, it didn’t fit with the preferred Asylum release method of hitting DVD a couple days before the big-budget version hits theaters. Luckily it takes The Asylum about two weeks to shoot even its bigger, more megashark-laden productions, so Paranormal Entity had plenty of time for writer, cast and crew to watch Activity at their leisure (this borne out by Hogan’s admission that she’d seen the movie prior to being cast) before shooting, so they’d know what they were aiming for. The production timeline on Paranormal Entity comes out looking something like this:
As for the content, it’s remarkably faithful to the film it’s based on, not scene-by-scene but not too far removed from it, and the major touchstones of Paranormal Activity are replicated, or at least recounted. Particularly entertaining: the central setpiece, the single most talked-about sequence? Either the crew of Paranormal Entity couldn’t quite figure it out (I know I couldn’t) or couldn’t afford it. It still happens, but it happens offscreen and is summarized by a witness. A few things are changed around — true to name, the filmmakers borrow a bit from The Entity (1981) — but this might be the first of Asylum’s flicks which could pass the Folgers Crystals test. If you’d kind of heard about Paranormal Activity, and maybe seen the TV spots, and you walked into a screening of Paranormal Entity (if such a thing existed), would you know you’d been had? Well, yes, you would, but you might or might not realize you weren’t watching the movie in question, a testimonial which doesn’t hold true if you’re inexplicably wandering into a screening of The Terminators. If such a thing existed.
Still, spell-check wouldn’t have hurt.
Working on Oscar catchup and prep — over the weekend, I caught An Education. It’s a well-written, well-acted coming of age story and romance set in the hair-up, floral-print sundress 1960s, a film which I enjoyed more than I expected. Like this one!